We just returned home after spending the weekend in the area where I graduated from high school in 1974, and where my parents lived from 1972 until my Dad died in 1999. While I’ve never really felt enough of a heart-attachment to the city itself to call it a “home-town” (I only lived there for two years), the house where my parents lived was still “home” for me, because for almost 30 years it was the place where we fought off stubborn bosses and bumper-to-bumper traffic to get to for Christmas, Thanksgiving and various other family gatherings.
While this wasn’t our first trek back there since Dad died (and we moved Mom to Ottawa shortly afterward), I was, for some strange reason, more conscious this time of the residual pain that I still feel echoing through me every time we come back to this area. But this weekend, instead of blocking it out and trying to tiptoe around it without collapsing into woeful sobs, I decided to confront that pain and, well, meander with it for awhile.
Just going by movies, books and comments from other friends, it seems to be a fairly common phenomena, that a place – especially a “hometown” – becomes forever connected to us by (and sometimes even solely synonymous with) the myriad of emotions that we ourselves have attached to the people and events that we personally experienced in that place. It’s as if we can’t ever see this home-place as anything but “the place where all of this happened”.
I noticed – felt – all of these emotions swirling around in me the closer we got to this area. I wanted to cry, because over the years this place has become synonymous with all that I have lost – an agonizing reminder and encapsulation of all of my deepest sorrow and regrets. This is the place I had left, perhaps before I was really ready to leave, because I simply didn’t know how to stay. And I regret that now, because I would give anything to still have my parents here to come home to, because now I understand so much more than I did back then just how very very precious “home” and “family” truly are.
I’ve had to travel many dusty roads and mucky detours to reach that realization. While I guess I wouldn’t trade any of it because it brought me to a here-and-now that I like, I can’t help but wish that the road – that my choices – had kept me closer to home and family throughout all those lost and lonely years. But that’s not how it happened, and I’ve had to learn to focus on the good and positive, and to not wallow in all of that regret…to instead see each regret as a lesson learned which in turn evolved into a valuable tool that I was able to use to make better choices in subsequent situations and encounters.
Still, it all came flooding back this weekend. All of it. Good and bad, joyful and sad, but mostly the bad and sad. Constant connections, constant conversations with the past, constant desperate wishing that I could go back and rewrite parts of my story, that I could magically pop back and redo so many moments and situations over again with the wisdom and understanding that I have now.
Not possible. No delete or backspace buttons in this story. There simply is no going back.
So I pondered this. Will I forever be confronted with all of this mind-clutter, over and over and over again, each time we drive through this area, each time we visit dear friends here? I don’t want to continue to saddle “this place” (the city itself is an innocent bystander in all of the drama and trauma) with such sad baggage that gets left behind when we drive away and then picked up again each time we visit. Enough already. Enough. I decided that it’s time for a little mental exercise in letting go…I decided that I needed to let my mind conjure up a box, or a pretty urn, or even a silk-lined coffin, and then place all of these painful memories, regrets and unfulfillable yearnings inside – and then bury them. Imagine a peaceful, pretty resting place somewhere in the surrounding countryside, and put all of this useless clutter to rest there once and for all.
I have to figure out how to do this so that I’m not tempted to dig it all up again each time we come back to this place. Perhaps it’s okay to grant myself just a slight nod to that history, then focus on remembering that there is so much more to this place and my life than just that collection of regrets. I need to clear out all of that old clutter to make room for new – better – kinder – memories….to remember the home and the family that gifted me with the roots and wings that I needed to safely travel those roads that I had to travel, and remember the love that gave me the foundation on which I now stand, strong and capable.
And perhaps best of all, I will then be free to create new connections to this place that will make it an enjoyable experience to come back to in the future.
I can do this. I will do this. I want to do this. Is it possible to ever go back “home” without that flood of memories and emotions? I don’t know…but I can at least adopt a kinder perspective – a better balance between accepting that it was what it was and recognizing the precious gift that it all truly was.
We’ll see…next time I go back, we’ll see how far I’ve progressed. For now, I’m really glad to be home.